I’ve been active on Twitter for a few months now, and I am still struggling to connect there with others scholars who study authoritarian politics, democratization, and democratic breakdown. There are plenty of people who self-identify as students or experts on national security, counter-terrorism, counterinsurgency, economic development, aid, and international relations theory. There is also a nice collection of non-profit organizations and individual activists who are engaged in democracy promotion, an endeavor that’s related to, but clearly distinct from, scholarship on how, when, and why processes of regime change occur.
So where is everybody? As a member of the American Political Science Association‘s Comparative Democratization section, I know those scholars are out there. They just don’t seem to be tweeting. That’s a shame, because Twitter is a great way to share and vet ideas with, and learn from, scads of people you’ll never encounter in your corporeal life. In the past few months, Twitter has helped me, among other things: follow the twists and turns of Egypt’s transition plans; learn about shady license sales linked to upcoming elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo; gauge the resilience of pro-democracy protests in Morocco; and learn more about the roots of social unrest in China. It has also given me a nice venue to share and discuss my own ideas about things like the effectiveness of U.S. democracy promotion projects, the prospects for new democracies in the Arab world, and the nature of the democratization process.
Maybe I’m just looking under the wrong rocks, and there’s a host of democratization scholars on Twitter or in the wider world of long-form bloggers with whom I’ve simply failed to connect. If I’m not missing something, then maybe I ought to be selfishly glad; after all, scarcity helps drive interest toward those of us who are active in this medium.
Really, though, I can’t help but think there’s a big, fat missed opportunity here, both for the scholars who aren’t participating in the conversation and for the other communities of interest who might want to converse with them. This gap is especially glaring amid the flurry of regime collapses, revolutions, and, hopefully, democratic transitions we’re seeing in 2011. At times like this, the academic publishing cycle seems painfully slow, rendering work that attempts to respond to these kinds of developments inaccessible right when it’s most relevant.
So, students and scholars of democratization, consider this an open invitation: come join the conversation! And if you do, please give me a shout at @jay_ulfelder.